GUYANA is forging closer ties with Brazil hoping that a network of new roads and bridges allowing the South American giant easier access to bigger markets through the Atlantic Ocean will boost its economy.
The new and easier access for exports from Brazil 's vast northern region will open up markets for that country even bigger than current trade with the Mercosur bloc, government sources said yesterday.
A highly-placed official, who asked not to be named, said the bridge across the border Takutu River in the south, long in the making and completed with funds from Brazil 's federal government, will be officially open by the end of the year. Immigration and Customs posts and other administrative mechanisms are being put in place, he said.
The bridge across the Berbice River on the eastern border with Suriname is nearing completion and that will open up a deep water harbour for exports from Brazil.
Bauxite ore from mines in Berbice is shipped by barges in Kwakwani, Ituni and other parts of the region to ocean-going vessels in the mouth of the Berbice River.
President Bharrat Jagdeo Thursday announced that Mr. Harry Narine Nawbatt, his current Cabinet minister for Housing and Water, a key portfolio, will be Guyana 's new ambassador to Brazil.
"The fact that we are putting a cabinet minister as our ambassador to Brazil indicates the importance we attach to the relationship with Brazil ," the source said.
This former British colony on the northeastern shoulder of South America is the only English-speaking country on the continent and is viewed as an ideal gateway to the Atlantic for the rest of the continent.
While many here argue that Guyana should pursue its "continental destiny", because of its colonial history it has instead become a key member of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which includes Dutch-speaking Suriname, and French-speaking Haiti . The Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic is a member of the wider Cariforum group with CARICOM.
Guyana was this week given the cold shoulder by other CARICOM members at a summit in Barbados on the new so-called Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.
President Jagdeo said he tried to get them to delay signing the EPA until the group could reach a better coordinated position at a summit of the wider African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc in Accra, Ghana at the end of the month.
He told reporters that the other CARICOM leaders are "being driven by the fear of GSP (Generalised System of Preferences)", arguing that their eagerness to conclude a deal with the EU could affect Guyana's growing trade ties with Brazil and other countries in the Southern bloc of developing countries.
He demurred Thursday when asked at the press conference whether Guyana should not now more eagerly push for its 'continental destiny'.
"Guyana has to pursue its continental destiny but not at the expense of CARICOM", he said.
He welcomed the news this week that U.S.-based Exxon Mobil, one of the largest oil companies in the world and CGX Energy Inc. of Canada , are using seismic and other advanced exploration techniques for crude off the Guyana coast.
The President said the oil companies have shown him their schedules for exploration and drilling for oil and gas, adding "we're trying to accelerate these".
He said other value-added industries covered in the National Development Strategy (NDS) include downstream processing of wood products, information technology, eco-tourism and agro-processing.
Mr. Jagdeo argued that his CARICOM colleagues in their eagerness to sign the EPA could undermine multilateralism and regional integration.
The Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading clause, for example, "will affect our relations with some very important partners", he said.
The President said the MFN clause in the EPA will "force us to extend to Europe the same treatment that we extend to our large South-South partners, if we have to negotiate MFNs with them.
He cited the case of Brazil-Guyana ties, saying the go it alone position that other CARICOM members have forced on Guyana "undermines" its moves for a better arrangement with its southern neighbour "because of our proximity and special relations".
Guyana, he said, will finalise the EPA only if the EU imposes sanctions which can destroy its current main exports of rice, sugar and rum, among others.
"It's not going to be a voluntary signature; it will be to protect the tariffs" this country has under existing arrangements with the EU, Mr. Jagdeo explained.
He said 53 per cent of this country's current trade with the EU is liberalized and Guyana is the CARICOM member that has the most to lose in terms of tariffs.